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VOL. 45 | NO. 13 | Friday, March 26, 2021

Baseball glove is the sweetest smell of spring

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Young Joe Rogers, ready to hit the field and chase his dream.

-- Photograph Provided

Baseball and I are celebrating our 60th anniversary together this year, dating back to when I first put on a cap and T-shirt for the Staples Athletics in Moss Point, Mississippi.

It’s been quite a ride, filled with moments memorable, and less so. Have I mentioned the time I pitched a no-hitter and hit a home run? That was pretty much the peak of my athletic career.

I was 12.

The game holds an enduring appeal for me, from its little rituals like throwing the ball “around the horn” to the evocative smell of a glove. I’ve been known to bury my face in one in a sporting goods store when nobody’s looking.

It’s the aroma of youth.

Some 20 years of living in New York provided numerous opportunities to see the Yankees or Mets play. Since 1994, friends and I have taken a guys’ trip to a Major League stadium almost every year. Since 2005, some of us have added an annual spring training trip, as well.

And since my return to town in 2018, the Triple-A Sounds have been my local baseball fix.

Last year, COVID shot a hole in all that. Oh, the Major Leagues managed a truncated season, basically without in-person fans. But all the minor leagues were completely shut down. The Sounds were silent.

Apparently, I’m not the only person looking forward to their coming return.

“The fan response has been tremendous,” says Adam Nuse, the Sounds general manager. “Season ticket memberships have been on sale for just over a month, and we’re nearly sold out.”

There has already been a setback, however. The Triple-A season was to have started April 6, but lingering COVID concerns pushed it back a month. The Sounds home schedule will now start May 11.

(For East Tennessee fans: The Double-A Chattanooga Lookouts and Tennessee Smokies near Knoxville will both start at home May 4.)

The Sounds stadium will require face coverings and will not be filled, at least for the foreseeable future. Working with MLB and local health officials, Nuse says, the team will be allowed to seat 20-25% of First Horizon Park’s 10,000 capacity.

As the season goes along, well, we’ll see. Also up in the air is how many tickets will be available on a per-game basis for those not holding any of the various season ticket varieties.

“We hope the single-game ticket number is somewhere around 250 per game,” Nuse said “but that number is nowhere near set in stone.”

He didn’t want to speculate on what a best-case scenario might be for crowds, and I can’t say I blame him. At this time last year, who would have guessed how long the disruption would last?

“The good news is ballparks and other sports venues are continuing to open up around the country,” he adds, “and the capacity number is seemingly growing by the week. So we hope that is a good sign of things to come here in Nashville for First Horizon Park.”

Sounds fans will notice some differences. The team affiliation with the Milwaukee Brewers returns after a 2019 fling with the Texas Rangers and four previous years with the Oakland A’s. And they’re switching Triple-A leagues – from the Pacific Coast to the East – so they’ll face a largely different bunch of opponents.

I’m looking forward to seeing the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp come to town. Go, oxymorons!

Nuse’s goal for the season?

“Our biggest hope for the Sounds this year is to return to a sense of normalcy,” he says.

“It has been a very difficult 600+ days for all of minor league baseball. We want to give the Nashville community a sense of hope and be the asset we know we are. So long as things continue to trend in the right direction, we’re hopeful we can attain that goal.”

Note he did not mention reaching the playoffs or winning a championship. Of course, those are their goals in baseball terms, but he chooses to focus on the community relationship. Normalcy. Hope. I like that.

I know some people think baseball is too slow, not representative of life today. But that’s a good thing. Life should be slow. It should be deliberate. Contemplative. There ought to be reflection before action.

So many of life’s great questions are the same as those posed by baseball: Fastball or curve? Swing or take? Fair or foul?

Beer and hotdogs enhance such contemplation. Batter up!

Joe Rogers is a former writer for The Tennessean and editor for The New York Times. He is retired and living in Nashville. He can be reached at jrogink@gmail.com

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